Miranda stared at the portrait, mesmerized. It was a painting of an old woman in a long gray dress standing in the background, and in front; a strange outline of a human figure. The center of the figure was a void. The void moved, or so she thought. It undulated and swirled within it’s confines. There was something about this painting. It was hypnotic.
Jon walked into the large circular room and looked around. He saw twelve portraits, all with the same old woman with her hands folded and a child standing in front with a gentle look of despair in his or her eyes. They each had an arm raised with a finger pointing to the left. It gave the room a sense of movement; eerie movement. Every painting depicted a different child: a blonde haired girl in blue, a red-headed boy, a brunette boy with delicate features, and on and on. All except for the painting where Miranda stood, silent. The child was missing - only an outline remained. Obviously, the artist was trying to make a statement. A bizarre, inexplicable statement, but a statement none-the-less.
“Weird,” he said. He crossed to Miranda, “Let’s get out of here. This place gives me the creeps.”
She remained silent. All of her attention was on the painting.
“Miranda,” he continued. That was odd. He wasn’t used to her silence. “Miranda Pritchard,“ He snapped his fingers in front of her face. “Anyone home?”
It broke her from her trance and she turned, “What? Something wrong?”
“Yeah,” said Jon, “I want to get out of here before that old lady comes to life and carries me off, or worse - asks me out.”
“Don’t give yourself so much credit,” she smiled.
“You went out with me, didn‘t you?” Jon reminded her as he patted her on her auburn haired head and stared into her bright hazel eyes.
“Your mother paid me to,” said Miranda with a cocky smile. She reached down and picked up her bag from off the floor.
“Funny, you’re very funny,” he grabbed Miranda by the hand and started to pull her toward the door.
They quickly exited the room and headed through the main gallery.
“Did anyone show up,” she asked as she looked around.
“No. There’s no one here,” Jon picked up the pace. He wanted to get out before Miranda found someone to interview and he would get stuck in the gruesome gallery forever. He didn’t want to spend another moment there. It gave him a sickening feeling. There was something not right about the place, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.
It wasn’t because it was old and gloomy as so many buildings that surrounded it were. On the contrary, it looked brand new. It was Art Deco with new white polished parquet floors and shell covered walls with bizarre portraits that looked like they were suspended in mid air. Light fixtures were held up by figures of women: their arms raised above their heads, cloth delicately draped around their bodies, their faces devoid of any features.
None of the paintings had an artist’s signature or price. The only writing he saw was on a small simple sign on the front of the gallery which read: “Harsworth Gallery.” Funny, he had never noticed this place before.
“No one?” she said confused. She looked around and her eyes fell on the portrait of a bride painted in shades of brown. The bride had an odd misshapen smile and large distressed eyes that seemed to follow her. In fact, all of the paintings were portraits of people in peculiar poses with large eyes that peered hungrily from the canvas.
“There are plenty of other galleries. Come on, I’m starved,” he led her through a small lobby and out the front door.
They stopped at a nearby café and ordered lunch before continuing on. Jon had already devoured his sandwich and was about to do the same to his cherry pie. He wasn’t very enthused about this particular assignment, but had agreed to accompany Miranda anyway. He was smitten by her and would have agreed to tackle a three headed beast if she had asked him to.
“Well, we’re off to a good start,” said Miranda as she idly picked at her salad.
Jon looked at her warily, “You have very low expectations, don‘t you? We still haven’t gotten any good information for this article of yours. What was it? Oh yeah, ‘The trends of artists in their quest for total global domination.’”
“It’s ‘The latest trends in local contemporary art,’ stupid,” she corrected him.
“Oh, since we’re on the subject of trends,“ he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small black box. “I picked this up at a very trendy gallery, just for you.” He passed her the box and smiled.
“You shouldn’t have,“ She couldn’t wait to see what was inside. She carefully opened the box, giddy with anticipation. Inside was a small red and white plastic whistle clumsily tied to a looped string.
“You really shouldn’t have,” she said in a sarcastic tone and placed the makeshift necklace around her neck.
“The artist’s name is Jacks from the Da Cracker gallery,” he explained. “His work is highly sought after. But for you, no amount of money is too much. I would go to the ends of the earth for you.”
“I know one place you could go,” she said as she lobed a tomato in his direction.
He ducked just in time, “Aren’t we a little old for a food fight. Oh, that’s right, age does not necessarily mean maturity.”
She grabbed another tomato, when she was hit in the shoulder by a sticky, red cherry. “You are so dead,” she said. She picked up another tomato and was ready to launch it, when she saw he was holding several more deadly looking cherries. “Okay, I surrender,” she laughed. “Let’s get out of here. We’re wasting daylight and my article is due tomorrow.”
“That’s what I like about you: your beauty, your grace, your lousy aim and your ability to put everything off until the last minute. You inspire me,“ said Jon as he stuffed the cherries in his hand into his mouth.
“And that‘s what I like about you: your wit, your charm and your table manners,” she laughed.
“Funny, you are so funny.” He wiped his hands off on the tablecloth, took her hand and pulled her up.
“Wait,” she said. She reached down and grabbed her bag.
They left the café and continued on down the street to another gallery. This one was much larger, with much larger art. Miranda walked up to the shop attendant, while Jon wandered off to examine a painting.
A well dressed woman shuffled papers behind the counter. “Can you tell me about the Harsworth Gallery down the street?” Miranda asked.
The woman looked up at her with a strange expression as if Miranda had grown a third eye, “Pardon me?”
“The Harsworth Gallery down the street,” Miranda repeated. “Can you give me any information on it?” Artists were usually a pretty tight group. She was sure the woman would know something about the gallery.
“I really don’t know what you mean,” the woman said as she picked up the pile of papers. She gave Miranda another odd look as if she had just sprouted two horns in addition to a third eye. The woman turned and exited through an office door behind the counter.
Huh, she thought. Probably hard feelings between them. It was the only explanation she could come up with. There was no one else around to interrogate, so she walked over to Jon who stared at a painting. It was a large canvas painted white with nothing but a small red dot in the center. The price tag read: $5000.
“I am in the wrong profession,” he said as he pointed to the price.
“What do you mean? You don’t have a profession,” Miranda said flippantly.
He gave her a weak off-centered smile, “Okay, if I had a profession, it would be the wrong one.”
Miranda pulled a small spiral notebook and a pen out of her bag and started to jot down the artist’s name and a brief description of the piece. Jon knew it was going to be a long day, Miranda‘s descriptions were never brief. That was his punishment for dating a reporter.
They visited four other galleries that day, all within a three block radius. Jon was tired. He was tired of looking at overpriced, uninspired art. Miranda was frustrated. All the art looked pretty much the same to her. Abstract and utterly pointless. She didn’t understand them. So much for her article.
They walked down the street toward the car, when Jon looked up and stopped. He changed direction and motioned for Miranda to follow.
“Jon, the car’s over here,” she exclaimed. “Where are we going now?”
“To the land of lofty literature, my dear. The plagiarists playground. I used to get all my good term papers from this place,” He pointed to a sign that read: The New Hampton Public Library. “They have a great audio visual department with great big comfortable overstuffed chairs.”
“If you say so, but I’d better not catch you sleeping on the job.” She tapped him on the nose and followed him in.
Miranda walked Jon to the audio visual department. When he was safely tucked away, she headed for the computer banks. She sat down, pulled her notebook and pen from her bag and pulled up her favorite search engine.
Miranda hesitated for a moment, then typed in ‘Harsworth Gallery.'
That was strange, she thought. Most galleries these days at least had a web page to advertise their business. She sat back and drummed her fingers on the table, then decided to change tactics. She pulled up the homepage for the New Hampton Times and clicked the link for the archives. The first page of search results came up quickly. She scanned the entries:
Harsworth Gallery to open it’s doors
New Gallery to open in the art district featuring the art of…
Grand opening of the highly anticipated Harsworth Gallery
After twelve years of planning, the highly anticipated Harsworth…
Lady Rebecca Harsworth opens the Harsworth Gallery
In honor of her beloved Ruth, socialite and heiress…
The entries that followed were similar. She decided to check out the first link. The page came up with a photograph of the Gallery. It looked just the same then as it did today. She read, “The Harsworth Gallery opens it’s doors Saturday, July 18, 1929. This highly anticipated art gallery will feature the art of…” It went on to list the names of artists, their styles, and the dates of their showings. She skipped down the page, ”…native of Louisiana and heiress to the Harsworth fortune. This gallery is her tribute to her late daughter, Ashley Harsworth, who died under mysterious circumstances.” She looked for more information on the daughter’s death, but found nothing.
She clicked the back button and scanned the next few search pages. They were all pretty much the same. She clicked the link for the next page of results. All the same except for the last entry:
Young Boy Missing
William Reinhart, the son of Sir Roger Reinhart…
Miranda didn’t see how that had anything to do with the gallery, but clicked the link anyway. There was a write up about a young boy who had gone missing. He was a cute brunette with delicate features. Something in his eyes seemed familiar to Miranda. He was the son of one of the wealthiest couples in New England. The parents had posted a large reward for any knowledge of his whereabouts. The article went on to describe the parents in detail: their social standing, their charitable work and how William was their one and only child.
Miranda scanned quickly through the page and was about to go back to the search listings, when her eyes fell on the words: “The Harsworth Gallery.” She continued to read: “The child was last seen at The Harsworth Gallery, as he and his parents attended the opening of the Coiler Collection. Coiler is an award winning artist known for his work in impressionism reminiscent of the works of Monet….”
Strange, she thought. Miranda picked up her pen and started to jot down notes. She flipped back to the search page and clicked the link for the next set of search results. She found another article about the missing boy, but discovered it was a different child. A redheaded boy with a sad look in his eyes. He was the son of a local architect. He had gone missing from The Harsworth Gallery.
Surely this had to be a coincidence, thought Miranda. She continued her search to find four more articles about different missing children, all while their parents attended an art showing. This was worthy of an article, she thought. Her editor would love this. Who cared about the trends of local artists. On the next page, the first item read:
Missing Children Count Reaches 9
Nine children now missing. Police suspect foul play due to the…
Miranda read on:
Court orders closing of Harsworth Gallery July 18, 1941
The New Hampton County Court orders closing of…
“Exactly twelve years to the day,” Miranda whispered under her breath. She jotted down the date in her notebook.
Connection found in Missing Children Case
Lord Harsworth has ties to children’s mothers…
Lady Harsworth taken in for questioning
Lady Harsworth under suspicion after the disappearance of…
Evidently one devious private detective implied that Lord Harsworth had an affair with each of the mothers and the children were his - all illegitimate. It stirred up quite a controversy in town. “That must have sold quite a few newspapers,“ Miranda muttered softly.
The courts felt the revenge of a scorned wife was enough motive for the crime and Rebecca Harsworth was taken in for questioning. It went on to say that Lord Harsworth changed his name and fled the country. At the bottom of the page she saw a picture of Lord Harsworth. Miranda dropped her pen.
There in black and white was a photograph of her father. She was stunned. She knew it was him. She had the photograph in her wallet. “But How?” she gasped. “That’s impossible. That would make him…how old?”
She wanted to abandon her search and call her mother, but how would she explain this. It was totally unbelievable. As Miranda continued to read, her heart raced. “Harsworth assumed to be going under the name of Pritchard.”
“No way! No way!“ she said a little too loudly. She looked around to see if anyone noticed. Jon was blissfully asleep in his chair. Headphones covered his ears. She turned back to the computer and quickly scanned through the next three pages of search results to try to find more information on him.
There were a total of eleven missing children and a great deal of controversy that surrounded Lady Harsworth even though she was cleared of all responsibility. She couldn’t, however, find any more articles about Lord Harsworth aka her father. One of the last entries read:
Lady Harsworth found to have occult ties
Lady Harsworth found to have known occult ties. Many fear…
“Okay, this is getting too weird,” she said to herself. Miranda clicked on the article to see a picture of an old woman wearing a long gray dress with her hands folded. Miranda recognized her from the paintings in the gallery. The name underneath read: Lady Rebecca Harsworth.
She was responsible for staging several séances and consulting with local psychics. Miranda didn’t think that was unusual until she read: Photographs of twelve children found in secret room in Harsworth Estate along with several occult objects. “Twelve children? But only eleven went missing,” said Miranda softly. The last search entry caught her eye.
The Harsworth Gallery Demolished
Harsworth Gallery demolished after the court rules…
The parents of the children paid a great deal of money to have the place demolished. They paid off prominent judges and several politicians. They couldn’t touch Lady Harsworth, but they could destroy what was most dear to her. Miranda checked the date: 1941.
This last article startled Miranda. If it had been demolished, who had it rebuilt? Who had it rebuilt to look exactly the same as it did then? Lady Harsworth? No, she couldn’t have. She’d be dead by now.
“Are we done?” Jon popped up behind her.
She jumped, “Don’t scare me like that!”
“Sorry, but it’s closing time and their starting to herd the masses towards the doors. We have to go, unless you want to be entombed in here,” He picked up her bag and handed it to her.
“Okay, I supposed I’m done,” she said reluctantly. “What time is it?”
“Almost 9 o’clock - way past your bedtime,” he said.
“Good, it’s early enough. Can you take me by my mother’s house?” she asked. “I have to ask her a few questions.”
“Sure,” he said and headed toward the exit. Miranda followed him out the doors.
As they climbed into the car, Jon asked, “Do you have enough for an article?”
“Not quite. I still have a lot of questions that need to be answered,” she stated distantly.
“Well, we’ll get an early start tomorrow,“ Jon started the car and pulled out into the street. Miranda rolled down the window to let the night air flow in. It was a windy night and she felt she needed the blast of cool air. She needed to be wide awake with all her senses when she talked to her mother.
As they drove down the street, they passed the gallery. Miranda saw a figure in the window. “Pull over! Pull over now!”
“What?” said Jon.
“Just pull over,” she insisted. “I saw someone.“ As he stopped the car, Miranda grabbed her bag and jumped out. “Stay here,” she ordered. She ran to the gallery and disappeared inside.
Jon just shook his head, “Reporters.” He switched on the radio and laid his head back against the headrest.
Tap, tap, tap. Jon was startled awake. He looked up to see a police officer rapping on the window with his night stick. The police officer waved for him to move on. Jon gave a thumbs up gesture to the officer, started the car, pulled out and circled the block.
When he returned, the police officer was out of sight. He pulled into a parking space close to the gallery, parked the car and checked his watch. An hour had passed. He cursed under his breath. “What’s taking her so long,” he said to himself. He got out of the car and approached the gallery. The lights were still on so he went inside.
There was no one in the lobby. Jon looked around. He was about to call Miranda’s name, when he thought he heard laughter coming from the main gallery. Miranda must have found a live body to interview. It sounded like they were having a good time, so he decided to wait for her to finish. It would at least spare him from having to make another trip in the morning.
He glanced down to see some brochures on the counter that went unnoticed before. He hadn’t even noticed the counter before. He picked the top one up and read: The Harsworth Portraits now on display. Lady Harsworth presents portraits of her twelve children now showing until July 18, 1942. He opened the brochure and looked at the small photographs of the paintings.
His face contorted as dread filled his eyes. He dropped the brochure and ran into the main gallery, “Miranda!”
His cry echoed off the gallery walls and out into the night where a piece of paper lay on the sidewalk. The brochure he discarded lay where a gust of wind had blown it. The wind picked it up again and blew across it the street to where a young woman waited for her ride. Glad for a distraction, while she waited; she reached down and picked it up. She read the front cover, then opened it up to look at the portraits inside.
Jon circled the gallery in a panic. The room looked smaller somehow and the entrance to the circular gallery was gone. There was a portrait of a bride in shades of brown hanging on a shell covered wall where the entrance had been. Below it sat Miranda's black bag with it's contents halfway spilled out onto the floor.
The woman outside studied the brochure carefully. In each picture, she saw an old woman in gray and a child with his or her arm raised. The last portrait was of the old woman and a young auburn haired woman with a look of despair in her large hazel eyes.
Jon frantically ran his hands over the wall where the entryway had once been. "Miranda!" He started to pound on the wall over and over and over again, "MIRANDA!"
The woman noticed something odd about the last painting. The young woman wore a necklace with an odd little red and white whistle.